Fourteen years in women’s small groups and I’ve never once heard someone confess to being a Mary rather than a Martha.
We sit around the table at what might as well be Marthas Anonymous and confess, “Hi, I’m Heather, and I’ve been a Martha now for as long as I can remember. I’m always busy, can’t seem to sit still and don’t enjoy resting. I don’t watch TV without something to do at the same time and feel best when following a to-do list.”
I’ve heard the same confessions for years. What I’ve never heard is, “Hi, I’m Jane and I’m a Mary. I have no trouble at all dropping whatever I’m doing just to hang out with Jesus. I’m totally fine if others are working in the kitchen while I sit at His feet. Priorities for me are never a problem–Christ always comes first.”
That’d be the day!
And while we confess to being Marthas as if we recognize it’s a problem, at the same time, there’s a little bit of pride there. Pride at being productive and busy. Pride at being the one to take care of others. Pride at the fact that people can depend on us to get things done and that we’re necessary to others.
That’s what the busy life does for us—feeds our self-esteem and reminds us that we’re important.
Yet, while we always pick on Martha as she grumbled to Jesus that her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping enough in the kitchen, it’s not Martha’s activity that was the problem. Someone did in fact need to feed Jesus and the disciples lunch and some Ramen noodles or boxed macaroni and cheese wouldn’t really cut it when feeding a crowd of at least 13 traveling evangelists.
Busyness in the kitchen wasn’t necessarily Martha’s issue and it isn’t always ours either. It’s fine to dream wistfully of hour-long quiet times, but reality doesn’t always allow for that.
Someone has to do your job. Someone has to mop your floors, do the dishes, make the phone calls, cook the dinner, fold the laundry, play with the kids, read the bedtime stories, and direct the homework.
No, the problem isn’t always a matter of what we’re doing. It’s a matter of the heart.
For Martha, the first stumble came when she complained about someone else’s lack of activity.
Oh, how often we take it upon ourselves to judge the choices of another, making us angry accusers and our target the burdened recipient of our disapproval.
Imagine if Mary had hopped up at Martha’s griping and headed begrudgingly into the kitchen. She wouldn’t be serving dinner because God had instructed her to do so. She would have been serving out of arm-twisted obligation rather than answering a divine call.
There’s no blessing, no peace, and no rest when we serve outside of God’s will.
Jesus asked, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG).
When we walk in step with Christ, trodding only where He is leading, we can feel the true rest of dependence on Him and the freedom from performance and accomplishment.
Martha’s next problem was thinking that it was all or nothing. You either work in the kitchen or you listen to Jesus. You can’t do both.
Surely, though, she could have been listening to Jesus while she stirred the soup at the stove. We also can bring Jesus into the moments of our day. Pausing for five minutes to breathe deeply and utter a prayer of need. Singing praise to Him while we drive and meditating on Scripture as we wash dishes.
Martha also had an issue with making time. Setting aside the dishes for a half an hour, she could have lingered at Jesus’ feet and then returned to her labor when He had gone.
In the same way, even when we don’t have time, we make time. No one is too busy for God. We choose to make His presence our priority, even if it means shutting off the TV, not answering the phone, taking a “Mommy time-out” for 15 minutes, reading the Bible during our lunch break, or delegating tasks to others.
Life crowds out time with God. It always does. We must be vigilant to demand those moments with Jesus. They will not happen by accident.
In Stumbling Into Grace, Lisa Harper wrote, “He teaches us . . to slow down and recuperate after giving our all for the sake of the gospel. To find a balance between going out and doing and being still and knowing” (p. 119).
Are you a tired Martha? Accept the rest that Christ offers you in His presence. Return there as often as possible, taking a minute when you need it and an hour when you can. Don’t expect to be energized for eternity. He gives you enough for today, for just this moment, and we bring that renewal back into our all of our activity.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.